White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci did not last a fortnight. Two recently ousted White House advisers, former chief of staff Reince Priebus and former press secretary Sean Spicer, may have been incompetent in their posts, but they knew enough to know Scaramucci would be a disaster. Grabbing the limelight away from the president is never a good idea, but dribbling profanity all over the New Yorker (as he acknowledged he was attempting to leak rather than go on the record) shows just how lacking in judgment, class and professionalism — even in this White House — he was.
His firing was immediately taken as a sign that new Chief of Staff John Kelly is on top of things. The Washington Post reported:
“The abrupt decision signals that Kelly is moving quickly to assert control over the West Wing, which has been characterized by interpersonal disputes and power struggles during Trump’s six months in office.
“The retired Marine general, who was sworn in Monday morning, was brought into the White House in the hope that he will bring military-style disciple to Trump’s staff. He has been fully empowered by the president to make significant changes to the organization, White House officials and outside advisers said.”
But let’s back up for a moment. Recall who pushed for Scaramucci — Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. One wonders how many dumb ideas and mistakes (e.g., firing James Comey, meeting with a Russian banker, failing to disclose his Russian meetings, mucking around in Qatar policy) Kushner in particular can rack up before the chattering class stops fawning over the first son-in-law and Kelly suggests Kushner go back to his New York business (which remains a source of conflicts of interest) full-time.
But, of course, Kushner, like Scaramucci, is just a younger version of President Donald Trump. Trump’s reliance on generals and billionaires, vengeful instincts, refusal to understand (or learn!) the skill set needed for government service, undisciplined outbursts and willful ignorance have resulted in one disaster after another. Perhaps the serial failures and humiliations will empower Kelly and diminish the influence of those such as Kushner who encourage rotten decision-making.
If Kelly want to professionalize the White House staff and shed staffers’ image as a gang of grifters and sleazy salesmen peddling untruths, he’ll need to do more than boot out Scaramucci. He will need to rid the airwaves and the halls of the West Wing of reflexive liars such as Kellyanne “Alternative Facts” Conway and obnoxious, unqualified characters such as Sebastian “Couldn’t Even Get a Security Clearance” Gorka. He’ll need to silence the attacks from the president on his own attorney general and end talk about firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller. He’ll need to give the president an ultimatum — no unsupervised tweets or thuggish asides in speeches, or he (Kelly) goes.
Right now, Trump needs Kelly a whole lot more than Kelly needs the job. That gives Kelly unusual leverage with the president. That influence may not last, but as Trump teeters on the brink of political self-immolation, Kelly might be able to convince Trump that this is his last chance to turn things around.
Firing Scaramucci is a good start for Kelly. Scaramucci’s hiring, however, should serve as a road map to root out dim advisers, poor decision-making and contempt for expertise.